Johnny Crowder: Founder of Cope Notes – Ep. 79

Video Highlights:

About Johnny Crowder: Founder of Cope Notes:

Johnny Crowder is an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in some tattoos. Ok, not that exactly, but he is a perfect example of the kind of story I’m looking for on this podcast.

He’s a touring death metal singer, a public speaker/TEDx presenter, and the founder of Cope Notes, a tech start-up that provides a positive-psychology text message a day to people who are struggling with mental health. His business has helped tens of thousands of people, and he has been featured on CNN, Forbes, and more. We talk about the problem with labels when it comes to people and how you can find your own unique path in this world, improving your own life and the lives of others in the process. Here’s Johnny Crowder, founder of Cope Notes. 

Full Unedited Audio Conversation:

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1:59 – “A lot of people think… that heavy metal is different from speaking, is different from running a tech company – and I guess there’s truth to that but they all have the same mission, which is help people feel better tomorrow than they do today. And that has always made them feel like very similar projects to me…It’s different avenues to accomplish the same goal.”

2:32 – (Ross) “People see things like music, and speaking, and companies as totally different, in a world where we’re told you have to niche down, you have to pick one thing, you have to be one thing, you have to represent one thing. But I’ve always felt that a lot of things can be multiple sides of the same coin.”

2:51 – “I’m a really big car nerd and I know people who will trade in and out of cars every couple of years – trade out of whatever car they have into a new car – and they don’t lose their identity with each car. They’re just like, ‘I like driving, I like cars. And, the vehicle may change, but my passion for driving is the same’. And that’s how I feel about anything I do, any creative endeavors, this is just a vehicle that I’m able to experience right now in my long-standing mission that will likely never change.”

3:29 – (Ross) “You’re trying to find the vehicle that is right for you, that fits best with your abilities, that fits with your interests. And we’re constantly searching for what that vehicle is.”

7:21 – [On the origins of Cope Notes] “I grew up with multiple mental illnesses. I was in treatment for a long time. I went to school for psych and I just didn’t like how complicated digital mental health resources were. I didn’t like all the questionnaires and the qualifying screeners – you had to be tech savvy and then you have to download something, remember a password, and then link it to your insurance, and…I want something that is super simple that I don’t have to remember to use.”

8:15 – “I wanted to solve this problem of the needless complexity of mental health resources. I wanted to strip away all of the things that didn’t actually make a material impact on the end user. And so now what Cope Notes does is…we send one text a day, at a random time, and no two people ever get the same text at the same time…It’ll be a psychology fact or journaling prompt or an exercise that’s written by a peer with lived experience. In plain English, not all clinical and jargony, and then it’s reviewed by mental health professionals to make sure it’s legit, then delivered at random times…It’s a guaranteed interruption to a negative thought pattern at least once every 24 hours for the rest of your life.”

17:17 – “I had all of these other things that I was going to build out, like a video series, and a blog, and these educational modules, and merchandise. And I was talking to one of my mentors at the time, and he said, ‘Listen, I love that you’re all fired up about all these things you want to start, but out of everything you just described that you’re going to build, what feature do you think would provide the most value to the most people, the fastest?’ And I said, ‘Oh, hands down the text messaging feature.’ And he said, ‘Drop everything besides that and get so good at the text messaging thing that that’s what you’re known for and then build back the other things.’”

19:20 – “When I look out into the marketplace, I see a bunch of resources that are trying to be everything to everybody – everyone’s trying to be a Walmart. You get your prescription here, you develop your photos here, you do your grocery shopping here, you get your oil changed here, and we just do everything for you. I have no desire to do that. I have never wanted to be everything to everybody. All I’ve wanted to do is fill a gap.”

20:47 – (Ross) “One of the fundamental paradoxes of a conversation like this, and a business in general, is – we began this talk by talking about how we’re all multifaceted, we have multiple interests, and we have a multitude of things that we are, and can be – but we just talked about how one specific thing, and one thing only, is at the essence of a great business.”

21:27 – “People are not businesses. People are multifaceted, and complex, and have all these moving parts …with one of the most complex neural networks that we’ve ever discovered – we cannot boil that down…But companies are almost better when they are distilled down because there’s so much clarity and direction.”

30:12 – “We don’t have infinity text messages. If you stay subscribed to Cope Notes for years and years, you might eventually receive the same text twice. But here’s what’s cool. You will receive the same text ID, but the words in the text will be different because they’ve undergone countless revisions based on user feedback and clinical oversight. So even if you did get the same text twice, you wouldn’t recognize it because maybe 20–30 times that text has been edited and revised and re-chopped.”

34:45 – “People laugh when they hear me say that I’m lucky that I’ve been volunteering for ten years because they’re like, ‘What is lucky about working for free for a decade and not being compensated?’, which, I understand that perspective, but on the other side of that coin…I’ve been compensated in relationships with really smart people who were willing to take a closer look at what we were doing and help guide us and inform us to make sure we were on the right track. And I think without those relationships, I don’t know that Cope Notes could exist as it does today.”

35:27 – (Ross) “That speaks to the power, which is a theme that I’m trying to help spread with my show, the power of having an idea that is so good that people can get behind it, and that they want to get behind it – an idea that’s worth sharing…they believe in what you’re doing and on that basis, they want to help you because you’re helping other people. So there’s a powerful lesson in there, I think, for people who want to start something.”

38:12 – “The company is doing well in revenue, but we put that revenue towards hiring people and paying for staff, so personally I have not received that financial benefit I think a lot of founders hope to achieve. But I know…if for some reason I never achieve it, this would still be the most worthwhile thing to do with my time anyway…what I am experiencing is a deep sense of peace and purpose.”

40:48 – [On the wider implications of helping people with Cope Notes] “It can’t be lost on us. Everybody who works on Cope Notes, if you’re a developer and you write the line of code – that line of code could be the reason why some guy named Dan lives to be 89 years old, because without that line of code that you wrote, he might have died at 17 or 31…We get these testimonials in…everything we do is touching thousands of lives all over the world. And we’re lucky to have that sense of purpose because not everybody gets to have that in their workday.”

43:49 – [On music] “When you tour, you’re in a city for a day, and then that night you drive to the next city, so you impact 300, 400, 500, 600 people… then you frickin’ leave, you drive away, and you might not see those people for six months, a year, or two years…and I’ve always thought of music as being that leave behind – we might not be here, but now you have our CD, now you can listen to us on Spotify and that can sustain you. But Cope Notes can walk with everybody, every day, in perpetuity without me physically having to be there.”

48:08 – “I think that people who look scary, people with a bunch of visible tattoos, face and neck, and wearing black clothing, and have large piercings…those people are truly some of the most kind, and caring, and supportive, and generous people in the world.”

50:00 – “There’s this misconception that people in the music industry are burnouts, touring musicians are just lazy or whatever. If you haven’t toured full-time you don’t know – it’s the opposite of lazy. I genuinely think that if you took every touring musician and pulled them out of that environment and put them into any corporate environment, they would be in a management position in six months because of how frickin’ hard artists have to work to achieve what they’re trying to achieve…I think corporate America needs death metal is what I’m trying to say.”

52:33 – “The thing that I always want to leave people with is something I was thinking about earlier today, which is the phrase ‘Everything changes all the time.’ I frickin’ love that phrase so much because every time I’m experiencing pain or disappointment or I feel betrayed by somebody or an interpersonal relationship is struggling or whatever, the phrase ‘Everything changes all the time,’ brings me so much peace because whatever I’m experiencing right now has a 100% chance of changing at some point in the future. It might not be the opposite, but at least I know it’s not going to be exactly like this forever.”

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